HMP Birmingham

– in the House of Commons at 4:57 pm on 19th December 2016.

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Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice 4:57 pm, 19th December 2016

With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the serious disturbance at HMP Birmingham on Friday. I begin by paying tribute to the bravery and dedication of the prison officers who resolved this difficult situation. I also want to give thanks to West Midlands police, who supported the Prison Service throughout the day, and to the ambulance crews and the fire service, which also provided assistance. This was a serious disturbance. I have ordered a full investigation, and I have appointed Sarah Payne, adviser to the independent chief inspector of probation and former director of the Welsh Prison Service, to lead this work. I do not want to prejudge the outcome of the investigation.

As we currently understand it, at 9.15 am on Friday at HMP Birmingham, six prisoners in N wing climbed on to netting. When staff intervened, one of them had their keys snatched. At that point, staff withdrew for their own safety. Prisoners gained control of the wing and subsequently of P wing. G4S immediately deployed two tornado teams. At 11.20 am, gold command was opened, and a further seven tornado teams were dispatched to the prison.

At 1.30 pm, prisoners gained access to two more wings. Gold command made the decision that further reinforcements were needed and dispatched an additional four tornado teams to the prison. At 2.35 pm, the police and Prison Service secured the perimeter of all four wings, which remained secure throughout the day. Shortly after 3 pm, there were reports of an injured prisoner. Paramedics and staff tried to intervene but were prevented from doing so by prisoners.

During the afternoon, a robust plan was prepared to take back control of the wings, minimising the risk to staff and prisoners. It is important in this type of situation to make sure that the right resources are in place before acting. At 8.35 pm, 10 tornado teams of highly trained officers swept through the wings. Shortly after 10 pm, the teams had secured all four wings. The prisoner who had been reported injured was treated by paramedics and taken to hospital, along with two other prisoners. Throughout the day, the prisons Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Mr Gyimah—and I chaired regular cross-Government calls to make the necessary preparations and ensure that the Prison Service had all the support it needed. I want to thank the tornado teams, prison officers and emergency services for their exemplary work.

As I have said previously, levels of violence are too high in our prisons. We also have very worrying levels of self-harm and deaths in custody. That is why we are reforming our prisons to be safe and purposeful places, and taking swift action to deal with drugs, drones and phones. It is important to remember that these problems have developed over a number of years, and it will take time and concerted effort to turn this situation around.

While the reforms take hold, we are continually working to reduce risk and ensure stability across the prison estate. The Prison Service is leading gold command to collect intelligence, to deploy resources and, in particular, to manage the movement of prisoners. That includes managing two incidents at Hull yesterday morning, which were quickly dealt with by staff. To date, we have moved 380 prisoners out of Birmingham, and we continue to assess the level of damage on the wings. The prisons Minister chairs daily meetings with the chief executive and senior members of the Prison Service to monitor prisons for risk factors that might indicate the potential for violence and unrest. Where necessary, we are providing governors with immediate and targeted support, ranging from extra staff and resources through to the transfer of difficult prisoners and speeding up repairs to or replacements of facilities.

As we manage the difficult current situation, we are implementing our reform programme, which will reduce violence and cut the £15 billion cost of reoffending, as laid out in the White Paper. In September, we rolled out tests for dangerous psychoactive drugs in prison; we are the first country to do so. We are rolling out new technology, starting with three prisons, to prevent mobile phone use. We are recruiting for a new £3 million national intelligence unit to crack down on gang crime. We are increasing staffing levels by 2,500 officers, and we are taking steps to train and retain our valued staff, including a new apprenticeship programme, a graduate entry scheme, fast-track promotions and retention payments. We are putting an extra £100 million into that. We are modernising our estate, with a £1.3 billion investment programme, and we are empowering governors to manage their regimes locally to get people off drugs, get them the skills they need and get them into work. Importantly, for the first time ever, we will make it clear in the prison and courts Bill next year that the purpose of prisons is not just to house prisoners, but to reform them. Together, these reforms are the right way to address issues in prisons so that they become purposeful places, where offenders get off drugs and get the education and skills they need to find work and turn their backs on crime for good.

The issues in our prisons are long-standing ones, and they are not going to be completely solved in weeks or even months. We are working to ensure that our prisons are stable while we deliver our reforms. Of course, this is a major task, but I am committed to it and so is the Prison Service, as I know are governors and prison officers as well. The next few months will be difficult, but I am confident that we can turn this situation around. We can turn our prisons into places of safety and reform, and this is my absolute priority as Secretary of State. I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice 5:03 pm, 19th December 2016

I thank the Secretary of State for giving me advance sight of her statement. I want to pay tribute to the tornado teams, the prison officers and the emergency services, but the Secretary of State has a prisons crisis on her hands, and it would be helpful if she finally admitted this to the House and to the country. The riot at the privately run Birmingham prison on Friday has been described as

“probably the most serious riot in a B Category prison since Strangeways”, which was back in 1990. However, this riot is not the crisis; it is a symptom of the crisis. In recent months there have been disturbances at Lincoln, Lewes and Bedford, and incidents at Hull and elsewhere. Assaults on prison staff are at an all-time high, and prison officers are leaving the service in such great numbers that 8,000 will need to be recruited to meet the Secretary of State’s 2,500 target.

The Secretary of State has questions to answer, and so do the Government as a whole. When the independent monitoring board said back in October that an urgent solution was needed to the prevalence of synthetic drugs in Birmingham prison, what action did the Secretary of State take? How much has Friday’s disorder cost and who is footing the bill for the damage? Will G4S be reimbursing the public purse for the use of public sector staff to sort out the disorder? Does the Secretary of State think it is acceptable that private sector prisons do not have to reveal staffing levels in the way that prisons in the public sector do? If, like me, she does not believe it is acceptable, is she going to do anything about it? Does she regret her vitriolic attack on prison officers in the Chamber on 15 November? It even shocked many of her colleagues. Is it not about time that the Secretary of State starting listening to prison officers on the front line?

Of all prisons in 2015, Birmingham had the highest number of assaults on staff. There were 164 assaults on staff in 2015 alone. The Prison Officers Association, the Public and Commercial Services Union and the Prison Governors Association have warned of this crisis since 2010. It is about time that fundamental questions were asked about the way our prison system is working—or not working. The Secretary of State needs to consider whether or not it is right that private companies such as G4S at Birmingham or Sodexo at Northumberland, where there are also big problems, should be making profit from prisons and from society’s ills.

The Secretary of State needs to turn her mind to the fact that where rehabilitation fails and prison education is cut, reoffending rises. This is a failure to protect society. Privatisation of the probation service, savage cuts to prison staffing, overcrowding in our prisons and cuts to through-the-gate services all stop prison working and put the public at avoidable and increased risk. The Secretary of State should admit that in her overcrowded, understaffed prisons, shorter-sentence prisoners are leaving prison with drug addictions that they did not have when they went in and are leaving more likely to commit more serious crimes than those they were put away for in the first place. This is not protecting society; it is endangering society.

Such is the crisis in our prisons that the Secretary of State needs to develop an open mind on the future of our prisons. Is there anything we can learn from how prisons work in other countries? Perhaps we can learn from some of the experiences in Norway and elsewhere. But one thing is for sure: the USA model of huge, privately run super-prisons is not the way to go.

To conclude, 380 prisoners have been transferred from HMP Birmingham. Where have they been transferred to? Is G4S back running things in Birmingham now? Will the Government review the role of G4S and private companies in running our prisons? Does the Secretary of State finally realise that it was wrong and dangerous to cut 6,000 front-line prison staff in the first place? The crisis in our prisons is a symptom of a failing Government that has lost control.

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Since I was appointed Secretary of State for Justice in July, I have been absolutely clear that we need to improve safety in our prisons and that the levels of violence we currently have are unacceptable. We are investing a further £500 million over the next three years, which was announced in the autumn statement, as part of our prison safety and reform plan to do just that.

The hon. Gentleman talked about psychoactive drugs and asked what we had done about them. We have put in place tests to detect those drugs and also trained up officers to detect them. We have rolled that out across the prison estate. We are also rolling out new measures to deal with mobile phones and investing in a £3 million intelligence unit.

The most important thing is our staff. I have huge respect for prison officers and their work. That is why we are strengthening the front line by 2,500 officers. That will ensure that we have one officer for every six prisoners, which will enable us not only to make prisons safer, but to turn lives around. We are getting a new apprenticeship scheme and creating a fast track so that we train existing officers and get them promotion within the service. That is a long-term programme—we are taking immediate action but hon. Members need to recognise that it will take time to bring those people online and get them trained up. In the meantime, we are ensuring that there is a full investigation at HMP Birmingham. There is a full police investigation and the perpetrators of the incident will feel the full force of the law. The reality is that their actions put both staff and prisoners at risk.

The hon. Gentleman asked about G4S. It will cover the cost of what happened at HMP Birmingham, including the resources employed by the public sector, but we need to be honest that this is a problem across our prison estate—we have seen issues at our private sector prisons and our public sector prisons. That is why our staff investments will be across the board, and why our reform measures and increased transparency, which the hon. Gentleman asked about, will apply to both public sector and private sector prisons.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the prison population. The reality is that it rose by 23,000 under the Labour Government between 1997 and 2010. It has been stable under this Government since 2010. He talked about short-sentence prisoners. The number of short-sentence prisoners has actually gone down by 1,500 since 2010; the increases have been in the number of, for example, sex offenders rightly being put away for those heinous crimes.

We are reforming our prisons but it will take time. We have the right measures in place to turn the tide, and we need to turn our prisons into places of safety and reform. We have taken immediate action to reduce risk across the estate, but everyone in the House must recognise that it will take time to ensure that our prisons become the places we want them to be.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and her frankness about the seriousness of the situation, which does her credit. I join her in paying tribute to the professionalism of prison staff, especially the tornado teams and others who operated very efficiently. She is right to say that the problem has built up over many years, and it is one for which all parties must accept a measure of responsibility. Will she ensure that the report not only looks at the immediate issues that arise from what has happened in Birmingham prison, but learns the broader lessons about how best to deal with dispersing disruptive prisoners; how to deal with pressures on the estate under those circumstances; how to deal with contractual difficulties with repairs to the estate, which sometimes create tensions; and how to deal sensibly with the problem of retaining experienced officers? I have just received an email from a prison officer indicating that one reason he is leaving after years of service is the failure of senior management to listen consistently to the concerns of officers on the line. Can we learn those lessons so that we can turn the tide around, which will take time?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is the illustrious Chair of the Select Committee covering these matters, and that he does not wish any concept which at any time might be in any way material to be excluded from his interrogation, but I advise other Members that, although they may seek to emulate his erudition, they should not seek to rival his length.

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. He is absolutely right—those issues will be looked at in the investigation that is taking place. On staff retention, we are working on retention bonuses and on giving governors additional powers, but I can assure him that I have asked for further investigation into precisely how we improve retention. The Minister with responsibility for prisons and I have been meeting prison officers around the country and listening to their concerns on career progression and training, and we will take action on them.

Photo of Shabana Mahmood Shabana Mahmood Labour, Birmingham, Ladywood

To those of us who have been following the crisis in our prisons, nothing that happened in Winson Green in my constituency on Friday came as a shock. The independent monitoring board report on HMP Birmingham found that staff resource constraints gave “cause for concern” and that there was a lack of capacity to run the full prison regime. What action did the Secretary of State take when the report was published? Will that action, or lack of it, be part of the investigation she has now promised? Will she tell us whether there are other things that she knows about but as yet has failed to act upon?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I am very happy to have a discussion with the hon. Lady about HMP Birmingham specifically. Staff retention and issues with psychoactive substances are issues across the prisons estate. The Minister with responsibility for prisons has a daily meeting to look at stability and make sure that we are providing every governor, regardless of whether they are in the public or private sector, with the support they need.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury

Mobile telephones are used in prisons for the furtherance of crime and violence, and indeed for recording violence when it takes place. The Secretary of State hinted that there might have been some progress in stopping their use in prisons. Will she enlarge on that, please?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that alongside the rise in the use of psychoactive substances we have seen a rise in the use of mobile phones in prisons. We have been working with the mobile phone companies on a technical solution, which is rolling out; we are starting to test it fully in three prisons. That will give us the means of preventing those crimes.

Photo of Gisela Stuart Gisela Stuart Labour, Birmingham, Edgbaston

May I press the Secretary of State further? When she received the report from the independent monitoring board, did she read it and take action, or do we have a situation in which we had the riots and then the warnings from the independent monitoring board, but nothing happened in between?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

We read the reports of the independent monitoring board and take action. We read that report. The Minister with responsibility for prisons and I are in constant touch with governors on these specific issues.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, South West Wiltshire

Some reports suggest that up to 75% of the inmate population have one or more mental health problem. Does the Secretary of State agree that we are unlikely to be able to reform our prisons fundamentally until we get to grips with mental health in the criminal justice system?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have been discussing with the Health Secretary how we can improve mental health provision in prisons and in the criminal justice system overall. We are giving governors power over mental health commissioning jointly with the NHS to make sure that we have the right services in our prisons.

Photo of Khalid Mahmood Khalid Mahmood Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) (Europe)

Further to the question from my right hon. Friend Ms Stuart, did the Secretary of State read the report and take absolutely no action at all?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

We are talking to governors across the estate, including the governor at HMP Birmingham. Many of our prisons face these issues. That is why we have already taken action on psychoactive substances, are taking action on mobile phones and are recruiting staff, including at HMP Birmingham.

Photo of Richard Drax Richard Drax Conservative, South Dorset

The matter of whether prisons are state-run or privatised is for another day, but for the record I believe they should be state-run. In my recent Adjournment debate I asked whether my right hon. Friend would introduce any new laws to act as a deterrent to prisoners—so that, for example, if they assaulted a prison officer, there would be an automatic extension to their sentence. I believe she was going to look at that. Will she inform the House of any moves being made on that?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I will look at the issue that my hon. Friend raises.

Photo of Karl Turner Karl Turner Opposition Whip (Commons)

I thank the Justice Secretary for the time she afforded me earlier to discuss the incident at HMP Hull at the weekend. She will know that Rob Nicholson, the Prison Officers Association rep in Hull, described the situation at the weekend as a

“powder keg...waiting to go off.”

The prison was put on lock down and was said to be on the brink of riot. Prison officers tell me that they are afraid to go to work. What can she do to assure the public and those prison officers that they are safe to go to work?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I have discussed with the head of the Prison Service the two specific incidents at Hull, which were dealt with. The issue is being dealt with across the board.

Photo of Suella Fernandes Suella Fernandes Conservative, Fareham

I welcome the Government’s commitment to closing old Victorian prisons that are now no longer fit for purpose and to investing unprecedented amounts of money to build new prisons. When will the Secretary of State be in a position to update us on which prisons will close and which new prisons will open?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

We have a £1.3 billion building programme. The first prison, which will open in February next year, is HMP Berwyn. It will bring an additional 2,100 places, which will help to reduce overcrowding across the estate.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

I understand, listening to the comments of my hon. Friend Karl Turner about what happened in Hull, that the prisoners involved had been dispersed from Birmingham. Can the Secretary of State say something about her view on that dispersal policy and how well it is working?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Given the condition of the wings in HMP Birmingham, the Prison Service needed to disperse those individuals across the prison estate. The Prison Service, which is experienced in dealing with these issues, is managing that process very carefully. There were incidents at HMP Hull and they were dealt with. We are dealing with some very difficult individuals, but it is being looked at very, very closely.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Chair, Committee of Selection

My right hon. Friend mentioned the discussion she was having with mobile phone providers. Is she doing the same with drone manufacturers?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

My hon. Friend is correct. We are working closely with drone manufacturers to create no-fly zones over prisons and deal with the scourge of contraband entering our prisons.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

I can remember a time when a Minister coming before this House after such a serious incident might have had to show a degree of contrition. Since the Justice Secretary mentions staffing levels, can she confirm that G4S has made a profit at HMP Birmingham because it has reduced the number of experienced but more expensive staff and replaced them with cheaper but less experienced officers?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I have been very clear that we need experienced staff. In fact, 80% of staff working for the Prison Service have been with us for five or more years. I am very keen to ensure we retain them—we offer them promotion opportunities. Staffing levels are not set by G4S. They are set by our overall prison policy, which I am changing to ensure they are sufficient. We are investing an extra £100 million a year in staffing to ensure we have the right staffing levels in both private and public sector prisons.

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Conservative, Calder Valley

We have already heard about the dramatic rise in psychoactive drug use, mobile phone use and the use of drones. I am told by my local prison officers that that is because prison officer levels have become dangerously low. Until we can recruit and train enough staff, what interim plans will there be?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We do not have sufficient staff in our prisons, which is why the Government are putting in additional investment. We started with 10 of our most challenging prisons, where we needed to recruit an extra 400 staff. We have already been able to put out 280 job offers, which shows that we can recruit. In 75% of our prisons we do not have a problem recruiting. In the areas where we do have a problem, we are offering extra retention payments to achieve our recruitment plans.

Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool, Wavertree

Our prisons have had 7,000 fewer prison officers since 2010: a cut of 28%. Two thirds of our prisons are overcrowded. We have seen disturbances at many prisons—not just at Birmingham, which we are discussing today—and the level of suicide in our prisons is at its highest for 25 years. That is a truly shameful record and we have seen very little remorse from the Secretary of State today. Will she now apologise?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I have been very clear about the issues in our prison system. Since I secured this role in July, I have been focused on dealing with them, making sure that we make our prisons safer, invest in prison staff and invest in mental health facilities in our prisons in order to deal with this situation.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

In her statement, the Justice Secretary said that the prisons Minister chairs daily meetings with the chief executive of the Prison Service to monitor prisons for risk factors that might indicate potential violence and unrest. Why was the risk of serious violence at HMP Birmingham not raised in the relevant daily meeting, and if the biggest rise in violence in our prisons for 26 years was not raised, what is the point of having daily meetings?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I am sure that my hon. Friend will recognise that with an operational service such as the Prison Service, we can reduce and minimise risk, but we cannot eliminate it completely. That is what the efforts of the daily meeting are about—reducing the level of violence and giving governors what they need to keep our prisons as safe as possible. When the incidents occurred, they were dealt with extremely effectively by the tornado teams. I want to see a more stable prison estate, which means building extra capacity so that we do not have overcrowding, and investing in staff so that our prisons can be staffed at a proper level. I have to tell Members that this will take time. While we are seeking to minimise risk, we cannot of course prevent every incident from happening.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

Given that the level of assaults on staff and prisoners and that the level of disorder in prisons generally is higher in the private sector per 100 prisoners than it is in the public sector, will the Secretary of State tell us how many of these extra staff are going to be employed by the private sector, over whose recruitment she has no direct control?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the way we review prisons, he will find that the performance of the private and public sectors is relatively equivalent. There is not a significant difference between performance in the private and public sector. We set the levels of staff that the private sector has to employ. We are moving towards a 1:6 ratio in both the public and private sectors. All our evidence suggests that that will be enough to make sure that we keep prisons safe and, importantly, to reform prisoners to reduce the cost of reoffending.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Labour, Slough

The Secretary of State said in her statement that these matters had been developing over a number of years, but is it not the case that between 1997 and 2010 there were no cat A escapes and no riots like the ones we have seen? Since that time, there have been two category A and many other escapes, record numbers of suicides and record numbers of homicides in our prisons. Why should we trust the right hon. Lady’s party to run the Prison Service?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I have said absolutely that we have seen significant rises in violence over recent years. That is why we launched the prison safety and reform plan. The first thing I did when I became Secretary of State was to make sure that we dealt with those issues. We have faced new challenges such as psychoactive drugs and mobile phones, which were not an issue before. I say to the right hon. Lady that since the inception of prisons we have not seriously impacted the reoffending rate, which is a challenge we face as a country. It is costing us £15 billion a year. It is important that we make our prisons safe, but also make them places of reform where we can reduce reoffending. Prisons need to follow both purposes.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

It is very clear that the Prison Service is in a state of acute crisis, and it is a pity that the Secretary of State is not willing to admit that. Why was G4S involved in staffing the prison in the first place? We should look at its past. [Interruption.]

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

G4S was the organisation that had to pay back £109 million to the Secretary of State’s own Department for overcharging. There were problems in the Medway secure training centre, the Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre and many other cases where this organisation has been involved. It is time that G4S was told very clearly that its organisation is no longer needed in our Prison Service.

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I should point out to the hon. Gentleman that the decision to put HMP Birmingham out to private tender was a Labour decision, in 2009. [Interruption.]

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. I appreciate that Mr Hanson is an illustrious former prisons Minister, eager to make his point with great force and alacrity—[Interruption.] Order. Mr Gyimah, I know that you are trying to aid matters, but you are disadvantaging me in seeking to facilitate good order. Your assistance might be required at some unspecified point in the future, but it is not required at the moment. We must hear the answers from the Secretary of State.

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Let me also say to the hon. Gentleman that the underlying causes are the increase in psychoactive drugs, which the prisons and probation ombudsman has described as “a game-changer”; insufficient staff numbers, which I have addressed in the White Paper “Prison safety and reform”; increased use of mobile phones; and gangs, drugs and bullying. Those issues are common to both the public and private sectors, and they are the issues that the Government are addressing.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Will the Secretary of State now acknowledge that the root cause of these difficulties is the cutting of £700 million from the Prison Service since 2010? Will she now apologise to the House, and say that that was a false economy?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

As I have said, since I started this job in July I have made clear that we need additional staff in our Prison Service to face new challenges such as psychoactive drugs, mobile phones and gangs. We are putting the money in—that was announced in the autumn statement—and we have a comprehensive programme for reform, but many of the problems in our prisons have existed for a decade. That is why, for the first time ever, we are making clear in legislation that reform is a key purpose of prison.

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Labour, Wrexham

I am very grateful, Mr Speaker. You are most accommodating.

The Secretary of State has already mentioned HM Prison Berwyn in Wrexham, which will open in February next year and will be the largest prison in western Europe. In due course, 2,000 men will reside there. Will she meet me so that I can discuss with her the arrangements for the opening, to allay some of the concerns of my constituents, which, as she can imagine on a day like today, have risen somewhat?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I should be very pleased to meet the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

If the Secretary of State is looking for some light reading over Christmas, she would do well to acquire a copy of a book by Guy Opperman, “Doing Time: Prisons in the 21st Century”, which contains a number of ideas. If I heard you correctly, Mr Speaker, you mentioned the hon. Gentleman’s intended marriage. Perhaps, if the Secretary of State were able to buy a copy, that would help with the cost of the wedding.

There are currently 9,971 foreign nationals in our prisons. In order to reduce the prison population, what further steps are being taken to return them to their countries of origin?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the book already has pride of place on my bookshelf. I have read it thoroughly, and I recommend it to every Member in the House. My hon. Friend Guy Opperman is very committed to prison reform, so much so that he agreed to become a Whip in my Department to keep an eye on us and make sure that we are on the right track.

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about foreign national offenders, and we are very much dealing with the issue.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

First the prison was taken over by G4S, and then it was taken over by the prisoners. The report on the prison by the Independent Monitoring Boards states explicitly that staff shortages are a major issue, observing that

“on too many occasions, in many areas, the service was reduced by there being insufficient staff”.

That was the very theme of the report. Brutally, whose fault is this, the private operator’s or the Government’s?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Clearly, there are issues across our prison estate. There is not sufficient time out of cell, and that is one of the things we are going to be measuring in our new reform measures. We also do not have sufficient staff to be able to keep our prisons safe and reform offenders, which is what we need to do.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

It took three written parliamentary questions from me to get the Government to confess that only one prison in Britain was free of illegal drug use. It took a fourth question to get the information that that prison had no prisoners because it had closed down. This is symptomatic of the Government being in denial of the corruption and chaos in our prison service. Have not the Government’s policies for the past six years been, like the Minister’s statement today, evidence-free and ignorance-rich?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his assiduousness in asking parliamentary questions, which have elicited an answer. If he reads the “Prison safety and reform” White Paper, he will see there is a whole section on how we deal with the issue of drugs: testing offenders on entry and exit, and making sure that governors are held accountable for getting people off drugs. That is the way we are going to crack this problem.

Photo of Liz McInnes Liz McInnes Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

As my hon. Friend Richard Burgon, the shadow Secretary of State, has pointed out, this is the worst prison disturbance since the Strangeways riot of 1990. The Woolf report on that riot recommended that

“no establishment should hold more prisoners than is provided for in its certified normal level of accommodation”, but it is reported that HMP Birmingham was overcrowded by almost a third last year. Have this Government learnt no lessons at all from the riots of 26 years ago?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I have discussed the issue the hon. Lady mentions with Lord Woolf. She is right that the disturbance at HMP Birmingham was very serious; that is why we are investing £1.3 billion in our prison build programme to create extra capacity and eliminate overcrowding in the prison estate.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Intervention)

The Howard League published a report in the summer indicating all Welsh prisons had seen a fall in the number of officers compared with last year, so what is the Secretary of State doing to ensure the Welsh prison estate is equipped with sufficient staff, especially as it is the policy of the UK Government to build in Wrexham a Titan prison, one of the largest in Europe, primarily, as she has said in this debate, to house prisoners from overcrowded prisons in England?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

We have great recruitment plans and programmes in place. We have already recruited a significant number for the first 10 prisons, including one in Wales, and we will follow that through with new apprenticeship programmes and graduate entry programmes and by making sure staff in our prison service are able to gain promotion and get the training they need to progress.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

John Thornhill, president of the National Council of Independent Monitoring Boards, says the boards are “frustrated” by the lack of response to the issues raised in their annual reports, so can the Secretary of State tell me three specific and substantive actions taken as a result of the relevant monitoring board’s latest annual report into Birmingham?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The White Paper is very clear about reforming and making sure IMB recommendations are taken seriously, and about working closely with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, because at the moment there is no duty for the Secretary of State to respond. We are putting that in place, to make sure it triggers action.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Opposition Whip (Commons)

How many staff were on duty when the riot started, and what is the Secretary of State’s estimate of the cost of the disturbance?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I have recounted the events of the day as far as we are aware of them, but there will be a full investigation that will make all those facts clear.

Hear, hear.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

No one could seriously attempt to deny that there is something rotten in the prison estate in this country at the present time. However, I would like to give the Government credit for finally considering the issue of post-release employment. Many inmates believe that, when you ain’t got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose. The Secretary of State has on her Benches probably the greatest expert in Parliament on that particular subject. Would she consider seconding the Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families, Edward Timpson, to her Department—he might not thank me for my suggestion —to produce a report to the House in, say, six months’ time on what the Government are doing on post-release employment? The issue really is that crucial.

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that it is vital to ensure that people have a job to go to when they leave custody. I am already working closely with that Minister’s “family” on this, and the prisons Minister will publish a report on the issue next year. We are examining plans to ensure that governors are held accountable for their effectiveness in getting offenders from their prisons into work.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would like to seek clarification from the Minister, if I may.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Lord Chancellor indicated that the Labour Government had privatised HMP Birmingham. Would she acknowledge, however, that the Ministry of Justice announced in March 2011 that G4S was to take over the prison? [Interruption.]

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The point I made was that the decision to put HMP Birmingham out to tender was made by Labour. [Interruption.]

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. There is quite a lot of eccentric gesticulation going on, and Rob Marris is shaking his head feverishly. I simply say to Members: consult the record. It will be very useful to read and digest the Official Report tomorrow morning over breakfast. The hon. Gentleman will probably find that therapeutic. I am grateful to the Secretary of State.